The Best and Worst of Phillies Spring Training
The Phillies have had a miserable spring, all things considered. They’re tied with the Red Sox for the worst record across both the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League. The Phillies have posted the second-worst batting average (.232), the third-worst on-base percentage (.306), and the worst slugging percentage (.348). Injuries have decimated the starting rotation and the bench, leaving the Phillies to rely on a handful of non-roster invitees. Already projected to have a mediocre year with a win total somewhere in the 70’s, spring training hasn’t done a whole lot to generate excitement for the regular season.
The Phillies will wrap up spring training in Florida after Thursday afternoon’s game against the Blue Jays. They’ll travel back to Philadelphia for two “on deck” games on Friday and Saturday, then travel to Texas for the regular season opener against the Rangers. Cliff Lee will oppose Tanner Scheppers, filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.
With spring training almost over, let’s look back at the five best and worst performances.
Ben Revere, CF
Revere is hitting .328 in 61 at-bats. Predictably, he hasn’t hit for any power, but he has stolen six bases in as many attempts and has drawn more walks (five) than strikeouts (three). Prior to breaking his foot in July last season, Revere had caught fire, hitting .347 with 17 stolen bases in 65 games between May 1 and July 13. In Revere’s absence, the Phillies used John Mayberry, Cesar Hernandez, Roger Bernadina, Michael Martinez, Casper Wells, and Ezequiel Carrera in center field. They all disappointed both offensively and defensively. If Revere can hit close to .300 with around 45 stolen bases, the Phillies should have no problem scoring more runs than last year’s meager 610 (3.77 per game).
Marlon Byrd, RF
Last season, Byrd raised eyebrows with a career-high 24 home runs and a .511 slugging percentage at the age of 35. In November, Eric Longenhagen wrote an article detailing the many adaptations Byrd has made (an article which Byrd recently praised). Many prognosticators are expecting Byrd to return to previous levels of production, but if his spring is any indication, they may be underrating him. In 53 at-bats, Byrd has posted a .321/.368/.509 slash line. As with center field, the Phillies had subpar production out of right field last year from players including Delmon Young, Mayberry, Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix, Bernadina, Wells, Carrera, and Martinez. Even if Byrd doesn’t quite replicate his .511 slugging percentage, he’ll still be a massive upgrade over last year’s collective .243/.305/.405 slash line in right field.
John Mayberry, Jr., OF
The Phillies have reportedly made Mayberry available in a trade, but the injury-ravaged bench could sure use him. Mayberry is slashing .302/.362/.512 in 43 at-bats in the Grapefruit League. He has failed to live up to expectations after a breakout 2011, but it’s mostly been because the Phillies have miscast him and been too reliant on him. Unfortunately, Mayberry is not a starter-quality outfielder, but has been utilized that way as outfielders landed on the disabled list over the last two seasons. Additionally, Mayberry isn’t very useful against right-handed pitchers, but the percentage of plate appearances in which he has had the platoon advantage has fallen since 2011. If the Phillies use him as a fourth outfielder and put him in the game mostly against left-handed pitchers, he can still be a productive bat off the bench. Still, the Phillies would be best served by trading him if the opportunity arises.
Jeff Manship, SP
Manship joined Phillies camp as a non-roster invitee with a career 6.42 ERA in 116 1/3 innings. In the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, the right-hander has dazzled, carrying a 1.80 ERA and 16-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20 Grapefruit League innings. His main competition for the job is David Buchanan, who has also pitched well, but it seems likely that the Phillies will end up calling on Manship to make a start on April 13 against the Marlins. Expectations should be tempered — Manship is, after all, an emergency fifth starter, so he won’t exactly be Cy Young. But he can post two or three quality starts until Cole Hamels is ready to rejoin the rotation, that would be a big help.
Mario Hollands, SP/RP
Hollands was an early candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, but was eventually nudged out by Manship and Buchanan. Nevertheless, the lefty has opened some eyes this spring, posting a 1.64 ERA with 10 strikeouts and four walks in 11 innings. The 25-year-old entered camp unfamiliar to a majority of Phillies fans. Last season between Single-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading, Hollands posted a 2.86 ERA in 132 innings spanning 20 starts and seven relief appearances. While he won’t make the rotation, he will be on the short list of potential substitutes should the Phillies need a spot starter or someone to fill in as a reliever.
Chase Utley, 2B
In 2013, Utley put his chronic knee problems behind him, at least for one season. He only missed time with an oblique injury in late May and early June, playing in 131 games total. He also showed he can still play, posting a .356 weighted on-base average, his highest since 2010, along with 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. This spring, though, Utley has struggled. Through 55 at-bats, Utley is slashing a disappointing .182/.211/.200. Historically, Utley has always been at least average in spring training, so it’s a bit odd to see him hit the skids like this. Still, it’s only 55 at-bats, so you can’t read too much into it.
Domonic Brown, LF
Brown hasn’t performed much better than Utley, slashing .196/.317/.275 in 51 at-bats. Has drawn nine walks, which is nice, but hasn’t homered and has logged only three extra-base hits. Brown made the NL All-Star roster last season due to a prodigious display of power, but still faces doubts over his ability to produce with the bat. Brown will have to make some adjustments as he gets ready for his second full season in the big leagues.
Maikel Franco, 3B
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Franco entering spring training, as Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the 54th best prospect after he blasted 31 home runs and posted a .926 OPS between Clearwater and Reading last season. In his first time in big league camp, Franco slashed .184/.225/.184 in 38 at-bats. As the identical batting average and slugging percentage indicate, Franco didn’t log a single extra-base hit. Manager Ryne Sandberg thinks Franco still has some work to do with the bat, saying, “He needs to get some seasoning and work on some things, more on the offensive side. He needs to work on shortening his swing and getting some better line-drive type of contact.” The Phillies will decide whether Franco will open up the season back in Reading or if he’ll start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
The Phillies signed Hernandez, GM Ruben Amaro recently said, on the recommendation of their new analytics department. The belief was (and may still be) that Hernandez was besieged by an unsustainable home run rate (24 in 151 innings, accounting for 21 percent of his fly balls allowed). Hernandez has only allowed two home runs in 17 innings this spring, but still sports a 5.29 ERA. Hernandez was signed to be the fifth starter, but was bumped up one slot when it was announced that Hamels would likely not pitch in April. Now the Phillies not only hope Hernandez can recapture his 2010 form, but they need him to do so.
A.J. Burnett, SP
The Phillies signed Burnett in February on the same day the grim Hamels news was announced, either a beautiful coincidence or a planned reaction. Either way, the 37-year-old was the Phillies’ fortunate answer to a big problem. In four spring starts spanning 14 1/3 innings, though, Burnett hasn’t done much to inspire confidence, posting a 7.53 ERA with only six strikeouts and eight walks. Many are already expecting Burnett to regress since he is moving from the pitcher-friendly PNC Park in Pittsburgh to the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. He is also switching from the Pirates’ capable and shift-heavy infield defense to the Phillies’ less-capable and less shift-heavy infield. Hopefully, he can flip a switch when the regular season starts, otherwise the Phillies will have another problem on their hands.